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Hungry for community


WORLD Radio - Hungry for community

Amid pandemic isolation, the church in Japan sees fertile ground for the gospel

Tokyo, Japan, February 22, 2020 iStock image/rockdrigo68

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Paul Butler.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: how to pray for the church in Japan.

These days, many Japanese citizens continue to deal with isolation caused by COVID-19. While new cases are decreasing, many government restrictions remain in place.

BUTLER: WORLD’s Emily Whitten recently spoke with Tokyo missionary Roger Lowther about current challenges to the gospel in Japan as well as how we can pray.


EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: That’s missionary Roger Lowther speaking to Japanese viewers in a YouTube video last Christmas. He explains, with helpful English subtitles, that the organ piece he is about to play begins with sorrowful, meditative tones. But like the Christmas story, it ends in joy.

Before COVID lockdowns began, Lowther helped organize many in-person concerts as director of faith and art at Grace City Church Tokyo. But recently, like many Christians around the world, he’s turned to videos and streaming.

LOWTHER: Japan was one of the first countries to shut down because of COVID-19. We have not been able to meet as a church since February of last year. And during the Olympics, we saw that even get worse. The spikes were five times higher than had ever been before.

The Japanese government continues to regulate church gatherings. Out of 180 members of his church, only 20 at a time can attend worship in-person. They need roughly 10 team members to create and stream worship, so that leaves room for ten worshippers. Translation: the church gets virtually no fellowship.

LOWTHER: That's been devastating for the church. Even last week, I was on a phone call with a teammate who said that it's been so hard for her to find volunteers to continue doing video online, the streaming of worship, the audio, the music team. People are just worn out…

Roger Lowther has lived in Japan for 17 years. Before COVID, he and other missionaries saw new openness to the gospel in Japan. Much of that began after the March 2011 tsunami. In the wake of that disaster, missionaries and churches organized to meet needs like food, water, and medicine. Lowther saw busy, professional people in Tokyo come together in a new way.

LOWTHER: When they saw that the church was leading the way and bringing relief work up north, that was a huge testimony to a lot of people, built a lot of trust. They came alongside us. It was like short term mission trips.

Many Japanese people experienced loving Christian community for the first time. And they kept coming back, even after the emergency faded.

LOWTHER: There's something different about Christian community - it's much more freeing, there's things you can say, and you know you won't be judged for it. Because you know, there's such a thing as grace, and that God has already forgiven you.

Lowther saw God’s grace change the conversation in his church in a number of ways. Here’s one example:

LOWTHER: One meeting, a friend of mine shared about his son, and everyone in the room was shocked. You have a son? He had never mentioned that before and was from a previous marriage. And he just had not felt comfortable sharing something like that, because that,  shame comes with that in Japan.

For now, COVID-19 has pushed the pause button on that kind of in-person, gospel-centered community. Lowther and his church try to take advantage of the opportunities they do have—streaming worship, recording podcasts, writing books. But they long to see more of the fruit they saw before COVID.

LOWTHER: Please do pray for the church in Japan now, during this time when people are so discouraged and depressed and disappointed. But also pray for the months and years ahead. We really can see how God is going to work through this. People want community now more than ever before. And it is a tremendous opportunity for the growth of the church in Japan.

God loves for His people to pray, especially for brothers and sisters in Christ who need encouragement. So, if you can pause what you’re doing for just a moment, would you join Lowther in this prayer for Japan?

LOWTHER: Dear God, thank you so much for how you have shown yourself to us. That you have a relationship with us. We are your children. You are our Father. You are the God of America. You are the God of Japan and God of every nation, every people. We praise you in every language that humans know. We glorify you but not as we should. Lord, we so long to see more and more worshipers of you in Japan. We pray that you would work there for Your glory; that when the sun rises and shines in the nation of Japan, that more and more people would know you and every Sunday morning be worshipping you.

We pray especially for the church during this time of the lockdown with COVID. And how hard that's been, how discouraging. So many pastors, so many church leaders and volunteers are burned out. They need your grace. They need to know especially be a close to your presence. And Lord, we pray for this time beyond. We pray, as COVID lifts, that you would then give renewed energy to the church planting work. And more and more people would come to know you and be drawn into your community. May your kingdom grow in Japan and around the world. We pray in your name. Amen.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emily Whitten.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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Laura W

Praying for my brothers and sisters in Japan, and for those who might join our family soon.